Remember a few weeks back when we were all crying over the closure of Varsity? Well our fave pub has now been replaced by a swanky new restaurant, which couldn’t look any more up-market than lodged between Portswood’s finest Farmfoods and Pizza Hut takeaway.
Wild Lime Bar and Kitchen opened its doors to the public on Sunday, and I was lucky enough to go along to the VIP opening night on Thursday to check it out. With immaculate cream window frames and prim plants situated either side of the entrance, the new establishment had class written all over it before I even entered the door.
Upon stepping inside, I was immediately struck by the bright and breezy atmosphere- such a contrast from the dimly-lit pub venue of the Varsity days. With white walls and funky lamps hanging from the ceiling, along with pristine beech furniture, the place has been totally transformed, and now has a pleasantly fresh feel to it.
I felt truly welcome as I was greeted by cheery staff at the door and then ushered to a small table by the window, where the evening sunlight came streaming in. The venue was buzzing: local business people, local residents and students alike had come to soak up the atmosphere of the new establishment. A funk track played out in the background, adding to the swanky ambience.
Waiting staff circulated the room, presenting guests with silver trays of food samples. The workers were young and fresh-faced; wearing branded white T-shirts and nifty waist aprons, along with friendly smiles. “The staff are all lovely and polite”, said Charlotte, mother from Bitterne, who attended the VIP event after signing up online.
The bar itself has radically changed. What was a crummy and decrepit alcohol counter is now an opulent bar with shining surfaces and glistening rows of glasses and bottles spanning the wall. As I waited for my Sunshine cocktail I watched in wonder as the bar staff methodically weaved between each other, serving customers and preparing drinks. They had evidently been well trained, and already seemed to have established an efficient working routine.
In terms of the food, Wild Lime serves a range of popular meals from sandwiches to pizzas to burgers to wraps. Judging by the samples I tried, it is great-tasting, high-quality cuisine. Just the thought of the Duck Wrap now makes my mouth water- a huge step up in quality from Varsity‘s savourless Sticky Chicken option…
And it doesn’t end there. The chunky parmesan chips are top-notch, described by student Emily as “the best chips [she’s] ever had”, while the warm Blue Cheese Doughballs make for exquisite gourmet nibbles. The various pizza options, with their light crusts and succulent toppings, also mean that one can now sit and enjoy a quality pizza in Portswood as opposed to ordering a greasy Pizza Hut to take out. What a treat.
The Wild Lime drinks menu also has a lot to offer, from a lengthy wine list to a wide range of lagers. A high point of attraction is the jam jar cocktails. Mixed in a jam jar and served in a jam jar- a very novel and quirky concept. They also taste great- if a little strong on the alcohol front (but is that ever a bad thing?!)
BUT while this is all great, a rise in quality means a rise in cost. Wild Lime Bar prices are not extortionate, but they will dent our student bank accounts more than Varsity did. The Straight Up Burger is £7.50, so forget a burger and a pint for a fiver. The Big Brekkie stands at £6.95, meaning that hangover fry up is no longer just a couple of quid. As for the cheapest pint sold it’s Fosters at £2.90, so wave goodbye to the days of £1.99 a Carlsberg…
Nonetheless, manager of Wild Lime, Charlotte, explained that the new business is working hard to offer cheap deals in order to make their products more affordable:
Pizzas are sold two for one from 5 o’clock on Tuesdays (that’s £7.95 for two), cocktails are buy one get one free on Thursdays (£6.95 for two) and we also sell ‘The Speedy Lunch’ pepperoni and meatball pizza for under a fiver at £4.95. We want to ensure that people are aware of the great deals that we offer here.
The real question is- will Wild Lime Bar and Kitchen get the business it needs? It has to be said that opening now, at a time when most students are heading home, seems a little odd. But commercial director, Sarah, is confident that the timing makes sense:
Opening now will enable the permanent local residents to establish their place here before the students arrive back in Fresher’s week. Then we can really start to focus on student needs in September.
Locals are sceptical though. Pensioner and previous Varsity regular, Al, is dubious about the business the restaurant will attract over the summer:
It couldn’t have opened at a worse time. It’s a great place, but me personally? I’m better off going down to Wetherspoons in town for my real ale.
Bitterne resident and grandmother, Jennifer, is similarly hesitant about returning:
The food is delicious, but with a family it amounts to a lot if money. Plus, they have no kid’s menu and no non-alcoholic cocktails. It’s certainly targeted more towards the student population.
So there looks to be a lot riding on the student following of the new restaurant come September. Sarah has spoken of plans to attract students with guest DJs and special rates for societies, as well as running competitions at the start of the year with Wild Lime voucher prizes (keep an eye out- they’re keen to run one with The Tab).
It seems highly likely that students will be enticed by Wild Lime when the new academic year begins after the summer. The quirky ambience and the lavish food and drink will certainly appeal as a great way to enter the new university year in style. The question is- will students have the means to continue enjoying these higher end meals and cocktails throughout the year?
Such a transformation is always going to be risky. As one local lady on the opening night said, the change from Varsity to Wild Lime is “like going from Primark to Reiss”. But one thing is for sure: Wild Lime has all the qualities a great restaurant and bar needs. Now the new establishment just needs to ensure that it caters specifically for the people in its Portswoodesque proximity- even if it means dropping its prices a little.
Follow Wild Lime on Twitter @wildlimebars.